Chausson - Poeme de l’amour et de la mer, Symphony in B flat
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Cat No: ALPHA441
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 15th March 2019
ArtistsVeronique Gens (soprano)
Orchestre national de Lille
Véronique Gens is recording this cycle for the first time, although she has already issued ‘Le temps des lilas’ with Susan Manoff at the piano for her disc Néère (ALPHA 215), about which Ernst Van Bek wrote in Classiquenews: ‘it mesmerises with the nuancing of its colours, the allusive precision of every sung word’. Véronique Gens’ talent is equally on display in this recording too, with the Orchestre national de Lille – an orchestra she already knows well – under Alexandre Bloch, its new chief conductor, whose appointment and first concerts and recordings have already caused a sensation… The Symphony in B flat major completes this programme: a summit of French symphonic writing, for some a milestone as important as the Symphony in D of Chausson’s teacher Franck.
1Chausson: Poeme De L'amour Et De La Mer: 1) La Fleur Des Eaux
2Chausson: Poeme De L'amour Et De La Mer: 2) Interlude
3Chausson: Poeme De L'amour Et De La Mer: 3) La Mort De L'amour
4Chausson: Symphonie: 1) Lent - Allegro Vivo
5Chausson: Symphonie: 2) Tres Lent
6Chausson: Symphonie: 3) Anime
In the song cycle, which sets six poems by Maurice Bouchor, grouped in two movements separated by a central interlude, the Orchestre National de Lille under its music director Alexandre Bloch, are joined by soprano Véronique Gens. She started her career as an early music specialist, before moving to Mozartian roles and then embracing a far wider repertoire, and this Chausson recording may well be one of her finest achievements to date. She has a native French speaker’s feel for Bouchor’s texts, coupled with a silken vocal quality that combines clarity with warmth, achieving radiance without overbrightness – an admirable skill, and one tailor-made for Chausson’s gentle-hued opulence.
The cycle tells of love and loss, pain and nostalgia, with the sea standing as a symbolist representation for the expanse of eternity, and Spring (in the closing ‘Le Temps des lilas’) as a metaphor for past happy times. Without recourse to unwonted exaggeration, Gens and the Lille musicians capture every twist and turn of the poems, every subtle nuance deftly coloured with magical singing and playing. Woodwind and strings are particularly outstanding, whether in the Ravel-like swirls that seem to capture the essence of the ever-present sea, or in the many telling instrumental solos, while the brass provide rich support. After the achingly poetic orchestral Interlude, the work’s second part culminates in a rapt account of ‘Le Temps des lilas’ which only the hardest-hearted could possibly resist: this is Gens at her most expressively involving, and she is in complete harmony with orchestra and conductor throughout.
Bloch and his orchestra then get their time in the spotlight with the three-movement Symphony, behind which stands the influence of Chausson’s teacher and close friend César Franck, who died in 1890. On one level, the Symphony can be seen as a tribute from student to master, but with Chausson’s own distinctive feel for orchestral chiaroscuro, which is beautifully served by the Lille musicians. The outer movements are unerringly paced by Bloch, poetic expressiveness and moments of high drama experly balanced, but it is the central slow movement, with its tangible echoes of Tristan and Parsifal, that is the real highpoint here and forms the work’s beating heart. The string voicing in particular, and the way in which the middle strings combine with woodwind solos, serve as a masterclass in how this music should be played. This is not the first time in recent years that we have admired the Lille orchestra, and on the strength of the playing here they are clearly a force to be reckoned with in French music-making, weaving a very special spell around the music’s magical textures.
At just over an hour in length, this combination of two of Chausson’s finest scores in wholly idiomatic performances is one to savour again and again, the musicians expertly served by the Alpha team, and it makes an ideal starting point from which to start (or resume) exploring the music of this fascinating French master. Gens’ contribution also makes it one of the undoubted vocal highlights of 2019 so far. What’s not to like?
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